This post comes to you a week after its event, so forgive me!
My previous Alton host Sarah graciously offered to drive Adam and me to Arundel Castle (pronounced air-un-dell) on July 15. This castle has curb appeal for sure! It’s walled off from the town, sits high on a hill, etc.–all those things a castle should be and do. Much to my surprise, I learned that the original castle–the medieval structure, that is–was actually quite small. The rest of this behemoth has been added over the course of centuries, and the grounds and architecture reflect many eras. I will focus my post on this mash-up, one that involves pastiche.
To begin: Medievalism. The castle’s keep is the oldest part of the estate, and this keep is where the original inhabitants lived. Walking to the top of the keep is a harrowing flight by most’s standards, but let me tell you that walking down is much scarier!
Shown above: the stairs and Sarah.
Ooh, ooh! Before we leave the keep, you might need to use the toilet, so let me stop here to show you where the garderobe is–it’s in that hole there in side wall of the keep. No door. Just do your business…and don’t fall in. Mind the drop! Read the sign!
OK, let’s make our way back to the castle. Below is an image of the walk down from the castle keep to the rest of the castle–the 17th-c. Civil Wars era (FWIW, 1642-49 English Civ War). I am wearing the gray fleece.
In this section ahead, there is a series of rooms with furniture and wax(?)-figure displays that try to give you a sense of how awful it was to be sequestered in the castle during the 1640s Parliamentarians’/Roundheads’/Cromwell’s army’s/etc./etc. siege. Eventually, the inhabitants of the castle had to surrender due to lack of water. 😦
The rest of the castle is a mix of 18th- and 19th-century objects, design, and architecture.
As seen above, there are even 18th-century vehicles in the more modern section of the castle, which feels very 17th and 18th century in some of its design. There is a great hall, and the house contains some grand dining and sitting rooms. In much of the space of this grand structure, Arundel Castle does not feel like a castle at all. It is a palace or mansion.
This is reinforced by its own version of a pleasure garden. See the lovely flowers and the cherub holding on tightly to that dolphin? How about those hedges–pruned to a series of points!
Speaking of pleasure, let us not forget the spectacle in the Collector Earl’s Garden that is this Inigo Jones masque inspired device–a high pressured fountain that keeps a crown afloat by mere force.
To get back to medievalism, though, the palace/mansion/castle(?) also shows a marked interest in Victorian medievalism, which means that it’s architecturally and aesthetically designed in some respects like a medieval castle and chapel but created in the Victorian Era. The chapel, for instance, is a total throwback–it looks many centuries old, but it isn’t (only about two and a half–yes, still old). If the signs hadn’t told me that the chapel is not from the 14th century, I would have sworn that it was.
Luckily, one more faux medieval element of the castle helps visitors walk away with that “yeah, I visited a castle” feeling! On the grounds, one will find a few ‘shoppes’ set up that emulate what it was like to make armor, food, trinkets, and such. There is a holding area for falcons and owls, which you can walk right up to and handle if you wish. There is also a bird demonstration just to show that they are trained.
There is also a knights’ challenge, which is hokey (they say it’s not staged, not predetermined, etc.) but allows you a chance to sit on the lawn and watch guys in cool outfits strike at each other with spears, axes, and swords. There is a tournament that gets the crowd involved, too–pick your knight! (Hint: pick the old duke of Arundel, even if you don’t think he should win…which I didn’t.)
I enjoyed my visit to Arundel Castle, and I would recommend your going, but give yourself an entire day to spend at this place. There is a lot to see and do, none of which relates to Jane Austen unless you can imagine her sitting in that sedan chair I showed in the picture above (which I did, of course). 😉
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